At JC Penney, we found a Dyson vacuum cleaner advertised on sale. Regular price: $725. Sale price: $649. It sound like a great deal, but we checked with the manufacturer: Turns out that sale price is the same as the suggested full price.
"How widespread is this?" we asked Priya Raghubir, a professor of marketing at New York University who says many retailers use those "sale" signs to lure us in.
"I think it's very widespread," she told us. "You feel smart, you feel happy, and you feel you've got a great deal."
"Are stores playing on our emotions?" we asked.
"Yes, stores are completely playing on our emotions," she said.
In a statement, JC Penney told us all its items put on sale must be "previously sold at ... regular price for a reasonable period of time" — and its pricing model is common in the retail industry.
"I don't think what they're doing is right," Gena Stone said. "And it's to their detriment."
We asked Bob Blatchford why he emailed us and decided to come forward. "You could lose your job for this," we pointed out.
"Because I thought it was wrong and I thought the public had a right to know," Bob said. "And I don't think Penney's will survive if they keep doing this."
So how do you know when a sale is really a good deal? Here's the takeaway. Before you buy anything, ask the store clerk: Was this product ever sold at the regular price? And how long has it been on sale? If it's been on sale for a while, that's a red flag.
Statement in response to this report from JC Penney:
"We certainly acknowledge that a significant amount of changes were made over the last year under previous leadership. It's no secret that some of those changes worked well and some didn't. Today, we are actively listening to our customers, addressing their needs, and making changes for the better — all based on customer feedback.
Last year we implemented an everyday low pricing structure that was ultimately rejected by jcpenney's core customer. We learned that our customers are motivated by promotions and prefer to receive discounts through sales and coupons applied at checkout. As such, we have returned to the promotional pricing model employed often in the retail industry. This shift requires us to make pricing changes on much of the merchandise to remain competitive. In addition, under this promotional pricing model, any time an item is put on sale the item must have been previously sold at its original or regular price for a reasonable period of time. While we understand this transition back to promotional pricing may cause some temporary confusion, the Company remains committed to delivering the quality, price and value that customers expect from jcpenney."
—By Jeff Rosen, NBC Today
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